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The NEC – and why we need it

by Captain Andy Brown BALPA Log Board

What’s the NEC? I have been asked this question so many times that I must come to the rather obvious conclusion that many of our members know very little about it.

The National Executive Council (NEC) is made up of 14 pilots who are elected by the pilot membership. Under some fairly complicated rules, which I won’t bore you with (they are all in the BALPA rule book), the 14 members are elected over three constituencies. This means no airline can dominate the NEC, and small companies – including helicopter pilots and winchmen – can be represented. Each member serves an electoral term of two years, so seven are elected – or re-elected – each year.

The NEC’s job is to direct policy and strategy, and to ensure that BALPA is run in an efficient, legal and responsible manner. Think of it as a board of directors.

NEC pilots chair the five main committees: Flight Safety (which has several subcommittees); Industrial Relations (mainly for negotiating pay, and terms and conditions); Membership and Career Services; Communications and External Relations; and Organisation, which includes the Legal Services Subcommittee, which spent more than £700,000 last year defending the rights of individual members.

NEC members serve on these committees to represent the views from all our airlines. In brief, the council consists of 14 people, working as full-time pilots, who are aware of the problems we all face on a day-to-day basis.

One of the highlights of serving on the NEC is the Annual Delegates Conference (ADC), which is held every November, and which several of your companies’ pilot representatives attend.

These are the people with whom you will be in touch through your Company Council, and they deal with your airline’s pay negotiations and working conditions, as well as with disciplinaries and grievances.

The ADC is our chance to change the rule book if necessary, introduce current issues, such as fatigue, and allow your representatives to ask us awkward questions – and let me assure
you, they do! We also invite people from the aviation industry; in the past, we have had fascinating talks from Airbus and Boeing test pilots, as well as High Court judges, sleep specialists, futurologists – anything that affects our lives as pilots.

The NEC also carries out surveys to find out how you think we are doing and on which issues you would like us to concentrate. It is a time when all the 10,000 pilot members, in 23 recognised airlines, can tell us the direction in which to go over the next year.

We also like to communicate with our political representatives – that is, our elected MPs – and, most years, we hold a parliamentary reception to talk about issues such as fatigue and flight-time limitations. Many BALPA members have written to their MPs, and met them at these receptions to discuss concerns. They are great fun and we are grateful for your attendance. I can assure you that many members of parliament are very, very interested in flight safety.

I served on the NEC for six years and, I have to say, it was a most rewarding time. Very busy – I promised every year to write an article about the NEC, but never got around to it until I stepped down.

Through my interest in radio control, I got involved in the debate and introduction of drones – or remotely piloted aircraft systems, (RPAS) as we prefer to call them. This took me to the European Parliament, and I presented BALPA’s position on drones to a House of Lords Committee, as well as contributing to a House of Lords European Union Committee report, Civilian Use of Drones in the EU.

There were other memorable occasions – such as holding pilot career shows – but the most rewarding times were probably when we debated how best to defend our members at industrial tribunals and in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination claims. We spend a lot of your money on legal cases and take great care that it is spent wisely. Many members get into trouble through no fault of their own – although, sometimes, also through their own fault – and we try to support all. Naturally, we cannot go into details, but the members of our legal services committee are truly unsung heroes.

One of the most serious issues the NEC has to deal with is the use of industrial action, which – in the UK – is governed by a plethora of laws and regulations. If we get it wrong, any action could be deemed illegal, with dire consequences for all concerned.

We not only have to consider these rules, but also assess how successful any action would be – and these are difficult decisions.

In my time on the NEC, we debated industrial action at least half a dozen times. Sometimes the situations were headed off – often when a company made concessions – but we have not been afraid to take the ultimate decision, as witnessed by Thomas Cook pilots last year.

I hope you now know a little more about the NEC. Please do vote in the NEC elections – and fill in a survey if asked; I know many of us feel ‘surveyed out’, but we try to keep them as short as possible. We want to hear from you to ensure this really is a member-led organisation.